Barber offers a chance to get your hair cut as you enjoy a drink. Upon learning about this, my first thought was: “Ew! I’m going to get little bits of hair in my beer!” My second thought was: “Drinking while getting a haircut? Great idea! I have to try this place!” So, I did.
When I called Hotel Alda on Laugavegur (home of Barber) to make an appointment, owner Grjóni told me he was very sorry, but he couldn’t fit me in because they were all booked up until the end of July. Recognizing that infamous Reykjavík hipster “We’re too cool to take your money,” customer service vibe, I resigned myself to popping in to talk to the stylists and clientele rather than receiving the full-on haircut-and-a-drink experience. As I sighed into the receiver, Grjóni offered an alternative: “I do have a drop-in guy who could squeeze you in at nine.”
Ah! The drop in guy! As long as he can cut my hair without it looking like I did it myself, I’m ok with the drop-in guy. Bring on the drop-in guy!
To my surprise and relief, the “drop-in guy” turned out to be Ben… a fellow expat from the same small town in Washington State as me. After a hug and a giggle at that classic Icelandic coincidence (“Oh! You’re the chick from the Grapevine!”—“Oh! You’re the drop-in guy!”) we got down to the business of cutting hair (Ben) and drinking (me).
Buzz cut with a buzz on
Ben tells me that Barber opened for business about half a year ago. Apparently, they got the idea to serve alcohol to clients because Grjóni used to do it all the time, but in a more “friendly” (read: probably not totally legal) manner. On that note, it should be mentioned that Barber doesn’t actually serve alcohol—that privilege belongs to the adjacent bar at Hotel Alda, which offers happy hour prices all night for Barber patrons. Furthermore, the stylists don’t drink while they cut, unless it’s the end of the night (and sometimes if their clients insist on buying a round. Maybe then).
Asked whether they ever cut really drunk people’s hair, Grjóni says it doesn’t really happen all that often. He says there have been a few “late happy hour moments,” where a gaggle of revellers will saunter in and say something like, “Hey! Man! Will you, like, shave my balls?” but mostly people just like to relax and chat with a drink while they get a haircut.
The barstools face the street, so while you are getting snipped and sipping your delicious adult beverage, you can admire all variety of colourful tourists in hiking boots strolling Laugavegur looking bewildered as they puzzle out their maps in search of the nearest puffin shop (five metres, any direction).
In addition to being a wicked good stylist, drop-in Ben is enjoyable company. Because I know him—and trust that he won’t totally fuck up my hair—I insist that he has a beer with me, and we even share one when the cut is over. As he lathers in the shampoo, Ben confides that if he were a rich man, he would never wash his hair himself. He’s right. This whole head massage thing is tops.
Getting a haircut is a weirdly intimate experience. For a brief moment, with your hair all stringy and wet, and your body draped in an ominous black cape, you feel a bit like a wet cat pretending to be a superhero. It is slightly strange when, mid-cut, it’s suddenly time for another round of beers and a bathroom break. Ben obliges and unwraps me while I step up to the bar and order another drink; half my hair piled sloppily on top of my head and pinned in place with a styling clip. It is a bizarre juxtaposition, me and my un-done, wet-headed self in this swanky hotel lobby. The beer helps it feel less weird, at least to me (the other patrons at the bar seem a bit suspicious). I smile and thank the bartender, then swagger back to the chair to sort out my affairs and shoot the shit with Ben.
Mostly we catch up on gossip and commiserate about our personal lives. It strikes me that Ben’s distaste for the routine 9-5 game makes him an ideal “drop-in guy” for a place that is booked four weeks out. He sprinkles in a few well-timed compliments about how healthy my hair is, and how jealous he is of my gorgeous greys. Chatting with Ben makes what I feared would be an elitist, over-the-top-cool establishment feel familial.
For the record, you guys, I got my hair cut by the hipster trendy barber before it was cool.